Yesterday, I woke up to a beautiful, sunny Manhattan morning, the kind that makes you want to barge out onto the balcony and triumphantly embrace the new day. I simply couldn't resist. After Roger and I had our tea and oatmeal, I braved the 36th floor terrace and snapped a picture before retreating to the anxiety-free zone inside. (I'm a scaredy-cat when it comes to heights.)
My plan for the day was to explore the downtown Manhattan via the Gray Line
Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour. I heard great things from friends and colleagues, so I put the $49 on my credit card for the 24 tour. The tour itself is a 2.5 hour loop, but you have the opportunity to hop off and back on again at 21 different stops.
My name is spelled differently in every city. In New York I am "Britiny." It's like Destiny, but British because I like tea. Obviously, my barista knew this.
The first tour guide was amazing. So informative, witty, and entertaining. She talked a mile a minute, but took the time to formulate small quizzes to keep us engaged.
Q. What does the red star represent in the Macy's logo? A. Roland Hussey Macy, the founder of the department store, had a star tattoo from his early days as a sailor. This also explains the frequently used term "Whale of a Sale."
Yes, I was that crazy person on the bus furiously transcribing every word as it came out of the tour guide's mouth. I have fourteen pages of notes to prove it. The history of New York City is fascinating. So many firsts took place in this magnificent place. For example, did you know that Macy's was the first store in the world to have escalators? The wooden escalators are still functioning to this day and they actually work better than the modern-day ones. New York City's Carnegie Hall hosted the first North American concert - Tchaikovsky played in 1891. The first pizza parlour, Lombardi's, opened its doors in New York in 1897. The very first drinking establishment, Fraunces Tavern, is still serving customers since its early origins in 1719.
I was a sponge for knowledge. The only thing I regret about the bus tour was having to take it in the winter. There was a transparent canopy over the observation deck and the dirty rain splatters on the plastic prevented me from taking any good pictures. I wish I could have taken pictures of Times Square, Little Italy, Tribeca, Soho, and Greenwich Village.
Instead I will share with you some facts which I found noteworthy.
Times Square uses enough daily electricity to power 6000 homes and even more on New Year's Eve.
The Empire State Building, designed by William Lamb to the likeness of a pencil, took 410 days and 4400 immigrant workers back in 1929. Despite the Stock Market Crash, $40 million was spent on its completion.
The first electric streetlights went up on Broadway Street in 1880.
Wall Street is a walk-only street, for security reasons. Also, if you rub the horns of the Raging Bull statue out front, good fortune will bestow upon you.
Tuition at New York University is $50000... per semester!
I hopped off the bus in Lower Manhattan to get a closer look at the Financial District and the World Trade Center memorial site. As you can see, I took a photo of the New York Stock Exchange, but didn't go in because I heard the lineup is long and the experience is over-rated. Nothing like it used to be before computers and automatic trade execution. I did; however, see the Freedom Tower. At 1776 feet, it's kinda hard to miss.
My visit to the 9/11 Memorial site was overwhelming. Ground zero is a gut-wrenchingly sorrowful sight. Water cascades into the abyss of what used to be the World Trade Center and spectators come to mourn silently around it. Some place flowers beside the names of their lost loved ones. I was not personally affected by that sad day in September, but I started bawling and had to leave. My heart goes out to all the families.
On a brighter note, the huge discount designer store, Century 21, was right around the corner. I stopped in to buy some warm socks. Sometimes one pair just isn't enough when it's minus 10 degrees outside.
I hopped back on the bus just in time to catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. The Staten Island ferry was closed for the remainder of the day, which was okay because it gives me an excuse to visit again someday.
The crowd was rowdy and the tour guide was not as informative for the second half of my tour. A lady was perturbed by the fact that she might miss an evening appointment (take a cab there?) and a man was equally livid at the tour operator for not disclosing the extra fee for the ferry (read the large disclaimer on the pamphlet?) Oh so silly. The tour guide spent more time calming these hooligans than teaching us scholarly folks. Boo to that.
All-in-all, a guided tour is a great way to explore the city and learn about the culture. My word of advice is to buy the 48 hour tour (it's only $10 extra), that way you can hop off at EVERY stop, take pictures, go shopping, etc. without time constraints. I would have loved to go back the next day to delve a little deeper.
I have my memories and tourist maps should I wish to do my own research. Pages and pages of them...
Can't believe I've been here for a week already! It's lovely.